Today has been a day.
I had a disagreement with my parents about something that was relatively minor but in the moment felt catastrophic and it took a lot of mental energy to engage with them about it in a way that didn't make me feel like I was being a petulant teenager (a state I think we all often naturally regress to where our parents are concerned). The baby has had three consecutive days and nights of less than stellar sleep and while this is unfortunately the norm instead of an exception, this weekend it feels like it has worn me right down to a bundle of exposed nerves, ready to misfire at any teeny annoyance. I'm feeling anticipatory anxiety at the thought of my annual performance review at work next week, even though I work for a supportive and empathetic boss and it will be fine-- I just don't want to engage in any professional self-reflection or goal setting right now. In turn, I feel hugely guilty about not being more actively involved in the process or more inherently invested in the career I worked so hard to achieve.
Then, my husband quietly and respectfully expressed frustration about the disastrous state of our laundry room. A room that he had kindly spent an entire weekend organizing and that I had, in my perpetual hot mess state, undone in a matter of days. So frustrated with myself and suddenly hugely overwhelmed—that is when I lost it.
I stormed off while holding the baby (much like the petulant teenager I was trying to avoid reverting back to) and hid in my closet (that's what grown ups do, right?) and cried hot angry tears while the baby chuckled and cooed in my arms, probably thinking we were playing an elaborate game of peekaboo. I hastily texted a friend a series of incoherent texts that basically amounted to "I CAN'T ADULT ANYMORE".
I have been floating for a while in this uncomfortable space that I know a lot of mothers (and human beings) can relate to. Where I feel dragged in so many simultaneous directions that nobody is getting a complete or competent version of me. I feel a complicated cocktail of guilt, resentment and sadness about this as well as a touch of "what else am I even supposed to do right now?!".
I know this is a "hard season" of life. But I also know (because every well meaning person over 40 says it to me constantly) that these days go by so fast and to cherish them. How do I do that? How do I knuckle down and figure it out and get through it and also savor each moment and be present?
There is a lot of talk about "losing yourself" in motherhood. I don't feel like this is true. If anything, I think becoming a parent amplifies who you really are- the good and the bad. Being a mother to a fresh, vulnerable and needy child has put all of the pieces of me into bold font and then jumbled them up into a heap that I feel like I'm constantly laying at other people's feet- my husband's...my children's...my colleagues'... my family & friend's. And saying "Here you go. It's kind of a mess but maybe you can pick through the wreckage and find something that you can use".
I've been forced to acknowledge pieces of myself that I don't really like. Like that I am someone who has to work very hard to keep a clean and organized home and frankly- I don't always want to make it a priority. That I really need sleep and when I don't get it, I am often emotional and reactive in situations I could otherwise easily brush off. That I really struggle with establishing a work life balance (even though I only work a few hours a week) and that I want to actually punch the person that ever claimed that women could have it all square in the face.
But I can also identify things that I'm proud of, too. I am a really good mom. I consistently put my children first- but struggle with figuring out how to do that in a way that doesn't impede on my own sanity or marriage. I can be endlessly patient- with a crying baby who needs to be comforted, less so with an overtired eight year old who doesn't understand her math homework. I love people in my life fiercely and never give a second thought to pouring myself into their lives and their problems.
I am also struggling with my identity as a "working mom". Because I only work (very) part time, I feel precariously unbalanced with one foot in stay at home mom territory and the other in the working world. Going in to work often feels like a party that I was only invited to as an afterthought. People are glad to have me there, sure, but I am never quite in on all the jokes and I always feel woefully underdressed (both metaphorically and also literally because honestly I don't even know if I own pants that aren't leggings at this point). I have so much respect for my many friends who work full time with young children, out of choice or by circumstance. I feel a strange sense of lingering disappointment in acknowledging the fact that I cannot be that person. I'm not even sure that I'm meant to be the person that I am right now (working part time) but for some reason I am clinging desperately to that part of me and consistently ignoring a tiny but persistent voice that is whispering to me that it might be time to let go. This makes me feel decidedly like less of "I am woman, hear me roar" and more like some kind of defective Stepford wife who is very bad at housework. Which circles back to that very untrue and horribly unfair notion that women can somehow have it all- but I still haven't worked out my feelings about that enough to write about it at length.
The mental load of wives and mothers is something that's also talked about a lot and I am here to say that it is very real.The constant running commentary in your head about what needs to get done is relentless and it is heavy. I am so lucky to have a supportive husband who does a lot of things- laundry and dishes and school pick ups- but there are just things that automatically default to me. Big things like remembering doctor appointments and little things like clearing off the baby's high chair after mealtimes and keeping a constant mental tally of where we are at in everyone's daily schedule. I know my husband would gladly help with more if I asked but the idea of spelling out everything that is so inherently obvious to me feels just too exhausting.
But at the end of the day...this is life, right? It is messy and hard and complicated in the exact same breath that it is rewarding and beautiful. As I type this, I have a peaceful snoring baby laying on my chest who will wake soon and gaze up at me with beautiful eyes that take up 75% of his face and a sweet little knowing smile that seems to somehow say "Oh good, I knew you'd still be here".
And that's all I can do. Keep showing up and trying my best and embracing my flaws and all the cliched reassurances we tell ourselves to make it through the day. And if baby smiles, unabashed and exuberant hugs from my third grader and appreciative kisses on the top of my head from a hard working husband are my daily reward, I think I'm doing ok.
And remembering that "ok" is a perfectly fine thing to aspire to these days is probably the kindest thing I can do for myself.